Julie Gardner is a county extension agent in Coryell County, Texas. She works with Texas A&M University (TAMU) Extension.
OWG: How long have you been working with TAMU extension and what does your job look like?
Julie: For 16 years, I have had the pleasure of serving communities in the great state of Texas with Texas AgriLife Extension Service. Every day is a different day in my job since I have such a vast array of projects related to health, wellness, nutrition and safety that I either coordinate or am involved in. With AgriLife Exentsion, the community is my classroom and I love my job for that reason! One day I may be teaching an OrganWise program with a class of kindergartners while the next day I am teaching diabetes education to older adults. It is inspiring to have clientele share with you the difference that you have made in their lives, no matter what their age!
OWG: How did you get interested in this kind of work?
Julie: I have a teaching certification and had thought I would be in a public school classroom after finishing college with a degree in Home Economics; however, it didn’t happen quite that way. After being interviewed by Extension and offered a position, I decided to work for AgriLife for at least one year, but over 16 years later, I am still here. I think the main reason I became so interested in Extension as a long term career, is the ability I have to become so involved in the community and utilize the entire community as a classroom. I love the flexibility I have in programming and working with so many different ages and groups. Each day is different and that fits my personality perfectly!
OWG: What are some creative ways you’ve seen the OWG programming used in your schools?
Julie: OrganWise has become a great tool for teachers! We have started the Food of the Month program in classrooms and this has been a huge motivation factor for kids. I take in new foods for the kids to sample after I present a nutrition lesson. It has been eye opening in the fact that so many kids are underexposed to healthy foods at home! We also plan to incorporate OWG into ACES day (All Children Exercising Simultaneously) in order to encourage kids to be even more physically active.
OWG: How do you keep teachers/schools motivated to keep up the programming?
Julie: Communication is the key! The other key is realizing and accepting that teachers are busy and may not always be able to implement the entire curriculum exactly as planned. I am constantly in touch with my teachers via email or personal conversation. Having the program implemented in two smaller schools where I am familiar with the teachers is very helpful as well.
OWG: What’s one thing that’s been rewarding about working on the issue of childhood obesity for you?
Julie: The fact that I can truly change a child’s thinking and behavior toward food is incredible! Knowing that instilling positive eating habits at a young age is not only important for growth and development, but is vital to adult eating habits as well. A child that eats well becomes an adult that eats well! Last year, I had a mom tell me that her daughter asked for an OrganWise Gal doll for Christmas. We laughed about it, but I told her how encouraging it was to know that the OWG program is having such an impact on our little ones!
OWG: Who is your favorite OWG character and why?
Julie: Hardy Heart! The kids love to talk about hearty heart and “feel” him doing his work in their chest. He’s also my favorite because eating healthy has so much to do with his happiness!